The Kindle is an electronic book (or e-book) launched in the USA in November 2007 by Amazon. It uses an electronic 'paper' display, and reads the proprietary Kindle (AZW) format. The Kindle can be used stand alone without a computer. Amazon's first offering of the Kindle sold out in five and a half hours. You can buy the Kindle from Amazon for $US359 and purchase 120,000 books to read on it that sell for $US9.99 each.
The chief competitor to the Kindle is the Sony Reader that has been around a little longer (released in 2006). Many technology critics have favoured the Kindle, because it downloads books, daily newspapers and magazines with wireless technology, whereas the Sony Reader downloads content via a wired connection.
While electronic book sales are growing exponentially, the numbers are still small, although there have been spectacular successes like Stephen King’s electronic-only novel “Riding the Bullet” that sold 600,000 copies in two days way back in 2000. There have also been other signs like mobile phone novels (see my previous post here) that indicate that some consumers find the electronic novel option attractive.
But will the book disappear?
I don't think so, and I certainly hope not! Even Mr. Bezos doesn’t expect electronic books to replace bound paper versions in a hurry. “Anything that lasts 500 years is not easily improved upon,” Mr. Bezos said. “Books are so good you can’t out-book the book.”
And what a piece of technology the book is. One of my colleagues many years ago commented at a conference on a wonderful piece of technology that he wanted to commend to us. His comments went something like this (from memory). This device has some great qualities, in short it:
- has no batteries or need for recharging;
- is free of wires;
- is cheap;
- is easy to hold in your hand;
- can be mass produced very quickly;
- is immensely portable - use it at your desk, in the bath, on the bus....;
- is very easy to recycle;
- can be shared and re-used over and over, some have lasted for centuries;
- can be operated simply with a hand and an index finger....
What would be lost if we did not have the book?
It's hard to say without knowing the future capability of the e-book but I would see some significant impacts - the early reading experiences of children would be changed dramatically, there would be doubts about longevity of works of literature and other significant texts, and there might be some significant equity issues. My guess is that it would be harder for:
- toddlers to use a Kindle while eating cereal than a book;
- a Kindle to survive being left in the rain by your granddaughter - as happened with my wife's new copy of "My Mum" recently (a quick wipe off and the book was almost like new);
- to hand my grandchildren books I read as a child or that their mother read (complete with the cereal stains);
- a Kindle delivered book to be as readable in 300 years as it is today (note how quickly technology renders texts inaccessible in just a few years);
- the Kindle to be as resistant to magnetic fields, bumps or being stood on as a book;
- and I'm positive that a book will survive being dropped in the bath, or out the car window better than a Kindle;
- all people to have equitable access.
Books have been carefully protected as precious objects for centuries because of the words and images that they contain. While there is a place for electronic books for storage, reading and sharing, it is unlikely that they can ever fully replace the book. The impact of the book is probably unparalleled as a piece of technology in human history; certainly in terms of human learning and communication. Long may its influence continue!
You can read the full article by Andrew Wyatt here.